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Tom Fidler


Editor’s Note: This document was kindly provided by John Fidler, who transcribed it from essays written by his Great Uncle Tom. Tom was born in Ridgeway in 1897 and, at the age of 17, enlisted as an infantryman in the Sherwood Foresters. He spent most of the war on the Western Front as a Messenger and Sniper. Whilst at Ypres he won the Military Medal for gallantry and devotion to duty, and in 1998, at the age of 101, he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by France.


Rural Industries of the Past

Ridgeway, the place where I was born and spent my childhood days, is a picturesque village in Derbyshire. High Lane runs along the top of a ridge, from which the village derives its name. From near the centre, the main road, which is straight and about 2 miles long, branches off at a right angle. At the Western end of High Lane is situated Phoenix Works, where heaks (?) a small type of scythe, are made. The works are the only ones surviving, of the many that I recollect in Ridgeway. On the other side of the road is Andrew Vardey’s pit, where the coal used to be screened and loaded in carts in a small recess off the main road. About 100 yards away is an old stone quarry, where stone was hewn and dressed by hand for local house building. Leaving High Lane we turn right, down a steep hill. We are now in the centre of the village, on the left is to be seen the old whitewashed farmhouse, which stands at right angles to the road, and is approached down four stone steps. This was the home of my great grand parents who used to carry on the business of Post Office, Carrier, to and from Sheffield, five miles away, market gardening and farming. There is a slight rise to the “Top of the Town”, as termed by the locals. On the way we pass the old “Village Smithery” where we used to look in at the open casement on our way from school, to watch the sparks fly as the horse shoes took shape. At the top of the Town on our right stands the old “Windmill House”, but no trace of the mill now exists. The road now falls steeply down, to the ford, where the River Moss flows. On our way we pass several small workshops, where knife blades and  sickles were made, now disused and falling into ruin. The “Commonside Works” of William Fox, where tedding, finishing, wrapping with straw rope, and packing of sickles was carried out, is now used as a garage. At Ford is the “Rope Walk” where the straw ropes were made by hand. A short distance along the valley we come to “Birley Hay” dam where water was stored to supply power to the scythe works of James Fisher. The scythes here were hand forged, the noise for the tilt hammer used for this work could be plainly heard in Eckington three miles away. Adjoining these works stood the old “Skelper Wheel”, where the quaint overshot wheel, used to drive the stones for sickle grinding. In the same area is Fox’s dam and works, where sickles were sheared, ground, and the wooden handles turned. All these works are now idle and falling into ruin, and will be unremembered by the rising generations.


Although 30 years have passed I still retain vivid recollections of the Hulluck sector, situated in the midst of the coal mining district of Betune. All our best billets in this area were situated in the surrounding colliery towns and villages from where we used to move into the line, after a short spell of rest.

On approaching Vermelles we passed through the ruined streets where only the shells of the houses the brewery and church were left standing. One of our landmarks was the water tower. Here we used to start our journey up to the front line, about a mile and a half away, via Chapel Alley, the main communication trench in this sector, six feet deep along its full length of over 2000 yards. On approaching the line we came to the reserve trenches, OB, 1, 2, 3 and 4. A short distance nearer was OG, 1, 2, 3 and 4. All these being relics of the battle of Loos 1915. We then moved up to the line by way of “Mouse Run” and “Rat Creek”, over the brow of the hill, in full view of Gerry whose “Grandstand” was Fosse 8. About 20 yds and we entered the front line. Turning right on entering this; a few minutes walk and we were in Southern Crater. About the same distance in the opposite direction was Northern Crater. Both these being mine craters, blown at the battle of Loos. These two craters and a few hundred yards of trench was the only tenable bit of front line during daylight, in the whole sector. The rest of the front, we used to patrol at night, as the trenches were only a few feet deep and could not be repaired, as all movement was under the observation of Fosse 8 which towered up like a mountain in front of our lines. Here we used to spend a fortnight spell of trench duty, mostly resting during the day, with the exception of sentry duty. One hour before sunset we “Stood Too”. After “Stand Down”, we commenced our night duties. Patrolling, Ration Parties etc, if detailed for Rations we moved down to B.4. But on top was the ration dump, terminus of the light railway from Vermelles. Here we boarded the trucks for a ride to the railhead, a downhill gradient all the way. We were lucky to get there without a few spills, as it was a regular occurrence for the truck to leave the rails. After loading up with our varied load, Rations, barbed wire, ammunition, etc, we commenced our long push back to the dump. Here the load was portioned out, delivered to the companies, and silence reigned once more on the dump until nightfall next day.

Over the Top – September 1916

On the Somme in September 1916 we had moved up from Le Bouefs, to the foot of the Moniel Ridge and were standing to on a cold and misty morning, when we received the order to go over the top and consolidate our position. A rifle cracked, and a man was sent to the rear with a self inflicted wound, having shot himself through the hand, either accidently or otherwise. We were no sooner over the parapet, when sniper’s bullets were singing about everywhere, a number went down , but we kept moving on, over ground strewn with dead bodies, our own and Gerry’s, shot down planes and abandoned equipment of every description. At last we came across a short length of trench, which had been hastily dug by the Germans, and abandoned in their hasty retreat, a small party of us consisting of corporal Green, Jack Hill and a few others whose names I do not remember drafted in. On inspection we found this trench to have a sap leading out in the direction of the enemy, who we found when the light increased sufficiently for us to take our bearings, were walking about on the top, only about 100 yds further up the ridge. We commenced to improve our position by deepening the trench, but gave it up as a bad job when Gerry started sniping at every shovel full we threw out of the trench. We then ventured to hoist a small periscope on the end of a bayonet. This was shattered by a snipers bullet, so we settled down, to await nightfall so that a party could go out for the rations, and Rum issue.

New Year Greetings

In late 1916 I was acting company clerk, to B Company, the Second Battalion, Sherwood Foresters. Towards the end of December we moved up from reserve to the front line of the Hulluck Sector. Company Head Quarters  were in Cluney Cut, a short trench, about 50yds in the rear of the front line, and running parallel with it. The Company Officer, and Sergeant Major took up quarters in the only dug out. As this would only accommodate these two important persons, and their batmen. The company sergeant, a veteran of the South African war, who was in the line for the first time, a runner, and I, took up quarters in a small trench shelter, size about eight feet by four feet. At one end was a rough bench used as a table. On one side and end a plank was fitted for use as a seat. In the corner farthest away from the table was a narrow entrance.

The grey light of dawn was just breaking on New Year’s Day 1917. I was detailed to take a message up to the front line to inform our men that at 8 a.m. the artillery would open out, and give the enemy an early morning straffe. Evidently “Gerry” had picked up the message, when it was being transmitted by land line from Brigade HQ, as he opened up with a counter barrage before I could move off. As the shelling was heavy, I took cover in the shelter entrance, to wait for an abatement. Suddenly there was a loud bang in the rear, then a yell. Thinking the young runner had been hit, I went in search of stretcher bearers. On my return, imagine my amazement, to find the sergeant on his hands and knees in the bottom of the trench, wounded from head to foot. It transpired that he had just sat down, to pull on his trench waders, when a whizz-bang fell through the corrugated iron roof and the few inches of earth covering, and exploded by his side. When the sergeant’s wounds had been dressed, and he had been placed on the stretcher, a pal and I volunteered to carry him back to the first-aid post, about half a mile to the rear. This was no light task as our casualty weighed over 14 stones, and our route was down the communication trench which twisted and turned, was water logged for the greater part of the way, being over two feet deep it almost reached over the top of our thigh boot tops. As we had no relief we were unable to rest until our journey’s end. After handing our charge over to the medical orderly, we made our way to Head Quarters, and to find another shelter for the night. Thus ended the short spell of active service of our Boer War Veteran, as learned later he was invalided home and spent the rest of his service in Blighty.


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